Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Is Variety Really the Key to Health and Weight Loss?

I went to a Brazilian Steakhouse the other day.  Have you been to one?  Apparently these restaurants are popping up everywhere, but to be honest I'd never heard of them before (I think they are really popular out west).  Anyway, the basic concept is that you go to get your "salad" or "sides" on your giant plate, then come back to your table and let the wait staff know you're ready for your protein.  When I say protein, I mean just about any type of meat/poultry/fish you can imagine (mainly meat though, wrapped in bacon.....) on a giant metal skewer.  You basically have endless opportunities to go back to the buffet for your sides, and then with all the protein choices you have endless opportunities to continue eating more and more and....more.  They really never stop coming out with fresh skewers for you to add to your ever-expanding plate.

And since you're paying about $35 per plate.....you feel the urge to keep going back for more.

So, that brings me to the question....... Is variety really the key to good health and nutrition?  I suppose it depends on what you mean by "variety", right? And, in what context.  For example, variety in the case of a buffet (all you can eat) can be detrimental.  I always tell my clients to avoid buffets.  You feel like you need to go back and continue eating because a) you want to get your money's worth and b) there are so many options and you sort of want to try them all (that's how I felt at this Brazilian Steakhouse, especially with the meat skewers....they kept coming out with new ones and they all sounded wonderful).  So this type of variety, provided to you in one eating session, might not be so great.  But variety in your diet, such as different types of grains, different colors of fruits and vegetables, and different types of oils is important in making sure you get the appropriate types and amounts of nutrients (I would say it's especially important with fruits and veggies).  Ok, let me break it down for you......

This article from USA Today titled; "From Brain to Mouth, The Psychology of Obesity" talked about how we are so overwhelmed in our lives that it may actually be drivng us to eat more.  Makes sense, no?  I think about how many people I've met during my life who were not only overwhelmed by life, but also all of the varieties of food choices both in the aisles and at restaurants......

Source: iStock Photo

For some people this over-abundence of food choices can cause so much stress that they overeat, but for others they might become so obsessed with choosing the "correct variety and in the appropraite portions and amounts" that they under-eat (eating disorders, they stem from stress, I know this personally).  The article describes how we can easily become overwhelmed by our rushed and hurried lifestyle, and have "cognitive overload", which may inhibit our ability to choose food wisely.  Then, having the variety of foods surrounding us all day, every day, like we do, just makes the situation worse.

And then there is "The Buffet Effect" ("From Brain to Mouth, The Psychology of Obesity")

Another area of research focuses on food itself. Studies by Barbara Rolls, director of the Laboratory for the Study of Human Ingestive Behavior at Penn State University in University Park, Pa., have found that something as seemingly innocuous as more variety actually encourages overeating. She says pleasure from eating a food declines while eating. But if other foods at the meal have different tastes, aromas, shapes and textures, instead of stopping eating, people shift to another food that remains appealing.  "It's the buffet effect," she says. "If you go to a place with 50 different kinds of foods, you're going to eat more than if there was just a few."

Clients often ask me if it's ok to eat basically the same thing every day.  I say, yes, and in fact I've read some articles in the past about how people who eat just about the same thing every single day (with small changes here and there to "spice things up a bit" and to include different nutrients in your diet) keep weight off easier.  I posted my typical day of eats the other day and as you will see I eat just about the same thing everyday.  I like it that way because I don't have to make a lot of decisions.  I love what I eat, and don't eat food just because of it's "super powers", I actually eat foods because they are healthy and because I enjoy them (I never force myself to eat something just because of what Dr. Oz says).  I do like to add variety by changing my fruit in my breakfast, or changing from cereal to amaranth, or rice to quinoa, or carrots to cucumber, or almond butter to peanut butter, but that's the good type of variety, the variety that is important for everyone (variety is the spice of life!).

QUESTION:   Having a variety of choices on the shelf for yogurt or protein bars is nice, but do you ever find that it's sort of overwhelming? Have you ever stopped to take note of how it actually effects your mood and your eating habits (this is why it's great to have an in-store dietitian to help you out a bit!)?  Having a variety of options at the dinner table each night, sure that's great, but have you ever noticed that it makes you more likely to eat more?  What are your thoughts?

Thanks for reading.

The Candid Rd


  1. You're totally right. Variety is key, but only when it comes to your overall diet. I'm always interested in eating more when there are more choices available to me. Like those new frozen yogurt places with like 50 toppings. It's hard not to load up on all of them and by the time you check out you have 5 pounds of candy topping!

    1. I hate those yogurt places!! Especially when they say "healthy" on the outside window. Ugh.

  2. I have heard about the Brazilian steakhouses, but I have never been to one. I don't like buffets/unlimited eating restaurants very much for some of the reasons stated above... All my friends who have gone said they are amazing however.

    I eat very similar foods from week to week, but, like you, I try to be mindful of switching up my veggies and fruits.

  3. Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts.! Yes, even the healthy choices are overwhelming but, why do u think that eating the same food keep the weight off? this is really confusing

    1. It's really what the research suggests. I think the idea is that when you eaet the same things each day you don't have to make many decisions, so it's easier to stick to your healthy diet plan (similar to why "fad diets" work for the short term, because you tend to eat the same thing every day......) I eat just about the same thing every single day, so I don't have to make many choices and read labels, etc.....it helps actually, but I don't hesitate to change things up sometimes, as long as I'm willing to take the time to look at the nutrition and calories, etc. (not everyone is willing to do that!). Does that make sense???

  4. I've never done the steakhouse because I just think i would feel like I was wasting money, ha! I don't want to eat that much meat!

    I totally agree that simplicity is HUGE in making healthy choices habit

  5. i'm a fellow dietitian, and was just having a discussion about variety in food choices last night!

    i had a client ask about coconut oil. i have not personally jumped on the bandwagon that coconut oil is cure all, better for everyone oil and i think more research needs to be done on it. but i told my client that changing up the oils they use is a good thing: walnut oil, olive oil, grapeseed oil, and coconut oil were just a few of the examples we talked about.

    i really enjoyed reading those articles! and i agree about the buffet thing...i totally overeat when there are more foods available even though i KNOW i shouldn't! and i'm going to pot luck tonight and making your delicious blueberry bulgur salad! (which is my new favorite grain salad!)

    thanks for such a thought provoking post today!

    1. Thanks for stopping by! Yes, buffets are dangerous. Even I couldn't control myself when I found out the price was $35!! ugh.
      Coconut oil....what a topic. I love it, but it's not a cure all and certainly not great for weight loss, it's loaded with calories!

  6. I'm a big "variety is the spice of life" advocate! Whether you are trying to lose weight or not. However, there are many who feel the same thing for them is the way to go! I guess it comes down to personal choices. As for the Brazilian restaurant, I went to one when I was on a trip to Israel MANY years ago. The giant swords of meat were insane. Wish I'd had my camera with me at the time. Thanks as always for your thought provoking and informative post Gina. HAve a great day.

  7. This is such a great post, Gina! I completely agree with the idea of "cognitive overload", especially in this day and age where in many communities in the US, there is too much variety of processed, packaged, CHO-heavy foods. Mixing up veggies and whole grains, etc. - now that's the way to go.

    I also eat pretty much the same thing every day, and save my mixing up for dinners :)